By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The poster and publicity for “Jellyfish Eyes,” the debut film from Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, left me wondering if the film might be an anime. It isn’t, but it features a cornucopia of fantastic creatures interacting with what we loosely call the real world.
The action starts with figures in black-hooded cloaks, standing around what looks like a boxing ring-sized octagon with the Yin-Yang symbol at its center. Exactly how that works is never explained. Exactly how many things in this story work is never explained, but we leave the cloaked figures soon enough to concentrate on the main story.
The young boy Masashi Kusakabe (played by Takuto Sueoka) arrives in a small town where his mother is trying to start over again, after the death of Masashi’s father. The father appears only in odd, menacing dream sequences, nightmares the boy suffers. The father perished in the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, the same disaster which precipitated another disaster, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Though the film comes across fairly lighthearted, darker history always lurks at its edges.
Soon, the boy sees strange shadows on his wall. Is it his father, signaling from the afterlife? The shadows seem like illusions someone with a flexible pair of hands might throw onto the nearest wall. What happens next, though, is hardly natural, or low-budget.
Masashi makes the acquaintance of Kurage-bo, a small creature with big eyes and a big belly and lots of floppy stuff on his head. Kurage-bo is very childlike and communicates in coos and giggles. Masashi, who hasn’t had much luck making friends with other kids at his new school, loves spending time with his new friend.
Imagine the young boy’s surprise when he discovers that every student around him at school, has a friend like Kurage-bo!
Or to be more precise, a F.R.I.E.N.D. (I’ll leave you to discover the acronym’s meaning for yourself). No two F.R.I.E.N.D.S. are exactly the same, and each one reflects the inner personality of their “parent” child. Some of them are comic, some are violent. Some are bucolic. Some are nasty. All of them fly through the air and engage in great battles with each other, while managing to keep out of the adults’ line of sight.
Kurage-bo and Masashi soon cross paths with a young girl, Saki (Himeka Asami), and her F.R.I.E.N.D., Luxor, a huge furry entity. Luxor is big, wide, broad-shouldered, and could easily lick most of the other F.R.I.E.N.D.S. in terms of pure physical force. But he does what he can to stay out of fights. Like Saki herself, Luxor is quiet, wise, and keeps his feelings to himself. Saki’s parents belong to a doomsday cult not entirely unlike the infamous Aum Shinrikyo, and that cult will make plenty of trouble as the movie’s action builds.
In the end, not surprisingly, the children’s innocence and goodwill win out over the machinations of the older adults. Even the black-cloaked folks are sent packing—but not for long, since the last few minutes of footage in the film hints at a sequel coming soon. Throughout, the fantastic creatures interact naturalistically with the flesh-and-blood actors. I enjoyed the cuddliness, the comedy, and the wild mid-air critter fights; but I enjoyed, even more, the quiet scenes of the lonely boy and the lonely girl trying to forge friendship. Not always an easy thing. Even with helper critters. (end)
“Jellyfish Eyes” plays August 21st through August 27th at Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 N.E. 50th Street in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes call 206.523.3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.